General ramblings – Part 4

One of my favourite authors, Jason Nahrung, recently posted a free short story set in his “outback vampire” universe. I’m a big fan of Jason’s writing, and so it was a great thrill to read some more work set in an imagined world that I’ve really enjoyed. Details can be found on Jason’s website. If you enjoy the short story, you might want to try the two novels (Blood and Dust and The Big Smoke).

Are you still watching Game of Thrones? I recognise that there are many problematic elements of the story, depiction of women etc but I must admit that I still find it compelling viewing. The storylines do feel like they are starting to come together, I’ll be interested to see how many seasons there are left.

I don’t really have much else to contribute this week – I’m feeling a little out of interesting news. I might leave this entry as a very short one, and try to come back stronger next week!

Monthly roundup – June and July 2015

So, my website has been neglected for the last couple of months – work has been a bit crazy and I’m running very behind on a whole lot of extra-curricular stuff.

So, let me catch you up gentle reader.

I’ve read a few books over the last couple of months, all of which I enjoyed. I finally read Dodger by Terry Pratchett. Set in the England of the industrial revolution, it follows the exploits of Dodger, a young man who scours the sewers of London for treasure that others have flushed away. I’ve been putting off reading this book, knowing that it was the last new pure Pratchett I’m every going to read. It was good, amusing all the way through and with the great turn of phrase I expect from a Pratchett novel. It was strange reading something that wasn’t set in Discworld, but it was a refreshing change (as much as I love Discworld novels!). Recommended if you’re a Pratchett fan.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of The Big Smoke by Jason Nahrung. Nahrung is one of my favourite authors, and The Big Smoke didn’t disappoint. I’ll be writing a full review soon, but in the meantime if Aussie vampires in Brisvegas sounds intriguing, get out and buy the book (and Blood and Dust, the first book in the duology, which I reviewed here).

Moving more internationally, I inhaled The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, which has featured on many of the speculative fiction award lists this year. An excellent novel, it follows a half-elf-half-orc who unexpectedly inherits the throne when his father and older half-brothers unexpectedly die in an accident. The main character is very sympathetic, and the writing very clean. A real page turner, I read the book in a couple of sittings. I can see why it has received so many accolades. One of the best fantasies of the year.

Peripheral by William Gibson was also very enjoyable, if not the same kind of page turner. Based on the premise that people in the future find a way to communicate with the past through a computer system, it is part science fiction, part murder mystery and part thriller. It took a little bit of effort to get into the book, but once there I really enjoyed it. Well written and the trademark Gibson  extrapolation of current technology gives much food for thought.

I decided to read the winners of each novel category of the 2015 Aurealis Awards to keep my eye on the Australian scene. I started with Peacemaker  by Marianne de Pierres, winner of the Best Science Fiction category. I’ll be doing a full review for the Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge, but in short it was a good novel solidly executed, but I don’t know that I’ll be rushing back for the second book in the series.

Next off the mark was The Dreaming Pool by Juliet Marillier. I really enjoyed this book. There was an element of “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, because I had completely the wrong idea about the book from the title and the cover. Once again, I’ll be writing a full review for the AWWC but well worth reading.

I’m taking a short break from my Aurealis reading to look at The Long Utopia by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett (more Stephen Baxter than Terry Pratchett, mores the pity – nothing against Stephen Baxter, but I do miss Pratchett’s writing). About as expected so far.

TV wise, like everyone I watching through to the end of Game of Thrones season 5, and have spent the requisite amount of time worrying about Jon Snow’s fate. That’s probably enough – there have been a lot more written about GoT everyone else on the internet, and I find myself without anything interesting to say.

I started watching Dark Matter, which has the distinction of being a science fiction show actually set on a spaceship. I hadn’t realised I’d been missing that until I got about half way through the first episode and thought “<insert deity of choice>, I love spaceships”. A good premise (everyone waking up with amnesia) and very competently executed so far. I’m hooked.

I also started watching Defiance season 3. For a show that was released primarily to sell a computer game, I’ve found Defiance quite compelling. There has been a bit of a clear out of old characters, but I’m still liking the show. If you haven’t watched the first two seasons, I probably wouldn’t advise starting at season 3.

I started watching The Messengers but abandoned it after 1.5 episodes. I’m not a religious man, but I can be convinced to watch angel/demon shows (for instance Supernatural), but I’ve decided I only like them when the angels are almost as bad as the demons.

On the superhero side of things, Gotham has been getting better and better. It is dark – very gritty with characters having to make some nasty choices (one of them, for instance, had to scoop her own eyeball out. It made sense at the time). I’ve always liked the Batman tale, and this exploration of the pre-origin story has grabbed me more than I thought it would. Worth persevering with if you like Batman but didn’t like the first half of the season.

I also just finished Arrow season 3, which was about as I expected. I’ve heard a lot of commentary panning the flashback format of the show, but I really like it. I’m enjoying having Oliver Queen’s backstory filled in, and having the flashbacks track exactly 5 years behind the main action works for me.

Agents of SHIELD was competently executed, and lets face it, I’m just a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I enjoyed watching it, I’m struggling to find anything interesting to say about it. So, lets just stick with “if you like the MCU, you’re probably watching AoS already” and leave it at that.

12 Monkeys was an interesting time hopping adventure. Based loosely around the Bruce Willis/Brad Pitt movie of the same name, it included an interesting take on time travel that remained mostly coherent. I remained interested enough to see it through to the end, just to see how everything played out. I liked the end, pointing everything at “you can’t escape destiny”, then pulling a fast one in the last scene. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the second season.

Wayward Pines started off in an intriguing way. A ten episode season, I was surprised when they revealed the mystery at the heart of the story about half way through. It changed the nature of the narrative quite dramatically. I didn’t mind not having Lost levels of irritating and contrived mystery, but it has made me wonder where the show could possibly go from here. I may start the next season, but I make no guarantees about finishing it.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve started in on the new seasons of Teen Wolf and Falling Skies. More on them next month.

I even got out to see a couple of movies. Imagine what you think the Entourage movie will be like. Picture it in your mind. You’ll be pleased to know that it is exactly what is hovering in your pre-frontal cortex. If you liked the series, then it is a bit of nostalgia. If not, don’t bother.

I really enjoyed Ant Man. It was significantly funnier that I was expecting, and after the ever escalating plots of the last few MCU movies, it was nice to have something with a manageable scale. A good stand alone movie as well if you haven’t kept up with the franchise.

And finally I popped out to see Mission Impossible this weekend. Pretty good non-stop explosions and Tom Cruise may be a fruit loop, but he is an incredibly fit fruit loop. Either special effects are getting really good, or Mr Cruise does a LOT of his own stunts. Lets face it, we all know that we’re going to wake up one day to the headline “Tom Cruise Dies Performing Bloody Stupid Stunt”. Still, in the meantime it makes for some spectacular, if mindless, entertainment.


Jason Nahrung’s Aussie Vampire Duology

One of my favourite authors, Australian horror stalwart Jason Nahrung, has just released his Aussie vampire duology through Clan Destine Press. The covers look fantastic (and each is linked to its respective book’s sale point at Clan Destine).Blood and DustThe Big Smoke

Long time blog readers might recall my review of the first volume Blood and Dust from when it made its eBook-only debut a couple of years back. I’ve been waiting for the sequel ever since, and was especially excited when I found out that Clan Destine Press had not only taken up the second book, The Big Smoke, but also were republishing Blood and Dust as both an eBook and paperback.

I don’t normally do straight advertising for books, but I do love Jason’s work. If you have any tendency towards horror whatsoever, do yourself a favour and buy copies immediately. You can thank me by singing sweet praises to my name to seven passing strangers over the next 23 days. Or, you know, leave a comment below if you can’t think of enough superlatives that rhyme with ‘Mark’.

2014 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot

The Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot (the Snapshot) is something that has happened every couple of years over the last 10 years or so. Basically, a group of bloggers get together and try to interview as many people as they can in the Australian speculative fiction field in a fortnight. Each interviewee is asked 5 questions, mostly tailored to them but with a couple of common elements.

In the 2014 Snapshot, I was fortunate to be interviewer Jason Nahrung’s final interview (edit 23/8/2014: actually he snuck one extra in after me – but I was his final interview at the time I wrote the original post!)  in what must have been an absolute mad scramble. In fact, pop over to Jason’s blog and read a much better description of the Snapshot process . Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

Welcome back. Now I’m going to direct you back over to Jason’s blog to read his interview with me. I know – making you go all the way over there and back, just to make you go all the way over there again. I am a cruel and fickle friend, make no mistake.

While answering the fiendish questions Jason posed, I realised this is the first time I’ve been interviewed because of my involvement in the field. It was an odd sensation.

I understand that links to the collected Snapshot interviews will be archived at the SF Signal website. I’ll provide a more precise link once it becomes available.

Edit 19/8/2014

The full list of all 2014 Snapshot interviews is now up on the SF Signal website right here.

Watermarks by Jason Nahrung (Cosmos magazine)

I don’t normally mention individual stories that I come across, but one of my favourite authors, Jason Nahrung, has a story in the latest edition of the Cosmos magazine (June/July 2014). The story is called Watermarks.

Cosmos is an Australian popular science magazine, where local speculative fiction luminary Cat Sparks edits the fiction. She usually chooses stories that are related to science in some way, and has a very discerning eye (so discerning that I wouldn’t even dare submit any of my work!). But that eye for quality means that you can always be guaranteed a good read with whatever short story she chooses.

And so it is the case with Watermarks, which represents a vignette of life in a future, drowned Brisbane. It is a story of unrequited love, of the slow erosion of society when faced with unparalleled but sedate disaster and of the importance of sunblock. I enjoyed it very much, and recommend picking up a copy of Cosmos at your local newsagent and giving it a read.

The Darkness Within by Jason Nahrung – review

Long time denizens of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of Jason Nahrung‘s work. If you don’t believe me, have a read of my reviews of Salvage and Blood and DustAlso, check out the barely-contained-fanboy-enthusiasm in my interview of Nahrung on the Galactic Chat podcast. I’ve also tended to highlight his short fiction as I’ve come across it. I like his work, no doubt about it.

So when I realised there was another Nahrung book out there, back from the dim dark past of 2007, I knew I wanted to read it. Little did I realise what a bugger it was going to be to track the damn thing down. Not available new anywhere. Not even eBook version (seriously, Jason, have you never heard of digitising your back catalogue?). I ended up using the AbeBooks second hand book website to track down a copy in a small bookshop in the remote Scottish highlands (1).

The blurb on the back of the book gives a reasonable summary of the plot. And I quote:

When photo-journalist Emily Winters receives a mysterious phone call, she agrees to a meeting at an isolated church on the outskirts of Sydney. There, a stranger tells her of a supernatural conspiracy. The women in Emily’s family have been resisting a sacred order of elemental magicians for centuries. And this Cabal wants her power.

With dark forces closing in, Emily has come to terms with her magical inheritance. One man, Jehail, has the knowledge to help her. But he also has a secret that could be used against her.

Calling on the strength of her ancestors, Emily must fight to free herself and her family from the evil that has held them captive. On a night of magic and blood she makes a choice that could save them… or destroy them all.

While Nahrung is clearly a horror writer, I think if The Darkness Within was published today it would be marketed more in the (dark) urban fantasy/paranormal romance sub-genres.  While there are strong horror tropes at work, they are blended with and softened by the strong romance elements in much of the story. But when Nahrung shifts into action mode, there is no softening at all with how viscerally he portrays the violence. It is that use of contrasting elements that is a big attraction to Nahrung’s writing.

The Darkness Within has all the elements of Nahrung’s later work, but in a rawer form. The integration of action with relationship building, the strong sense of the physical, the blending of horror and romance, the Australian sense of place. In, say, Blood and Dust, I felt these elements were more smoothly integrated, but then one would hope a writer would hone their craft over time.

In stories where a work-a-day slob suddenly finds out they are the chosen one, I’m always interested to see how the author handles the gaining/mastering of powers. I get thrown out of a story where someone is suddenly expert in skills that should take years of practice. Nahrung explicitly tackles this issue by building in a plausible fast-tracking mechanism into the story, as well as  demonstrating that Emily has a fragile hold on her new skills.

The secondary characters are well drawn and Nahrung uses point of view changes effectively to broaden out the perspectives on the story. Pacing is generally good (although a little uneven in a couple of places).

As with his other longer work, Nahrung infuses an Australian-ness into his work, this time the urban wilds of Sydney. This is done deftly – there is Australian dialogue and an Australian landscape, but the reader is never overwhelmed with in.

The book had an interesting path to publication, which Nahrung described in the Galactic Chat interview mentioned above, as well as having a good summary on his website. For those interested in the wonderful world of publishing, it is well worth reading about/listening to his exploits.

While the book is entirely self contained, the door is left open to a sequel at the very end. It is an interesting world Nahrung has created, I’d certainly pick up any works where he decides to revisit it.

I had a lot of fun going back and reading the early work of one of my favourite authors. Recommended to lovers of Australian paranormal romance, Jason Nahrung completists and people who love a scavenger hunt through the Scottish wilderness to track down a book.

(1) While morally, conceptually and creatively there is a core of truth to this statement that transcends the mundane human experience, it may, technically, be a lie. I recollect it was from somewhere in the UK, but digging up the receipt to  check the actual location seemed like a lot of effort. Besides, I like the idea of the book sitting on the shelf of a small, second hand bookshop in upper Inverness until my email breezed into town, bought it a drink and whisked it away to a life of comfort and luxury on the to-be-read pile in my den. That’s what should have happened. So for the purposes of this review, that’s what did happen. And I defy anyone (excluding the owner of the shop I actually bought the book from) to prove otherwise.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.


Galactic Chat Interview – Jason Nahrung

Well, my next interview for the Galactic Chat podcast is now up. I interviewed dark speculative fiction author Jason Nahrung. It was an honour to get the chance to interview Jason – I’ve been a big fan of his writing for a long time (you can see my previous reviews of Salvage and Blood and Dust elsewhere on the site).

Jason writes at the dark end of the speculative fiction spectrum, and has a broad and deep knowledge of the horror genre in particular. I’ve spoken with Jason at a couple of conferences, and it was very exciting to capture some elements of those “at the bar” conversations in the podcast.

Jason picked a great reading for the podcast – reminding me of how much I loved Blood and Dust (and making me even more eager for him to hurry up and finish the sequel!

I hope you enjoy the interview and please leave feedback here or at the Galactic Chat website.


Show notes follow:

In this episode we Skype in Jason Nahrung, a man who has been called one of the nicest people in the Australian speculative fiction scene, while writing some of its most disturbing fiction.

A penetrating cross-examination ensues on topics far and wide, including his award winning novellaSalvage, his award nominated novel Blood and Dust, what it takes to write on the Melbourne public transport network, whether the modern vampire can be re-fanged, the impact of journalistic skills on self editing and what listeners should read if they want to dip their toe in the horror wading pool.

All this plus the answer to a question that has haunted your interviewer for years – what exactly is a ‘gothic sensibility’?

Jason also does a reading from his latest novel Blood and Dust, where listeners will learn slightly too much about how vampire lovin’ and vegemite can go together.

Jason’s excellent website,, is mentioned at the end of the podcast.

Blood and Dust can be found at the Xoum website Blood and Dust

Salvage can be found at the Twelfth Planet Press website 


Author Website:

Author Twitter: @JNahrung


Interviewer: Mark Webb

Guest: Jason Nahrung

Music & Intro: Tansy Rayner Roberts

Post-production: Sean Wright


Twitter: @galactichat

Email: galactichat at gmail dot com

Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung – review

Blood and Dust cover

About bloody time, Jason Nahrung. I’ve been waiting for something like Blood and Dust ever since I heard one of Nahrung’s short stories (Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn) on the Terra Incognita Speculative Fiction podcast a couple of years ago. Yes, yes – I know he released a sensitive almost literary novella recently filled with beautiful gothic themes and broody settings earlier in the year. I liked Salvage and thought it was a great read. But this is the novel I’ve been waiting for. Vampires in the Australian outback. Love it.

Kevin Matheson is a young mechanic in a small rural town somewhere out the back of the Australian state of Queensland. He dreams of marrying his high school sweetheart, taking over his father’s garage/service station and helping keep his rural community alive. Then a cop arrives dragging a prisoner with a stake through his heart, a dying partner and a truckload of vampire bikies behind him and Kevin’s life isn’t the same again.

Blood and Dust has been released as an eBook only from the relatively new Xoum. I’m always interested in what level of quality control a new publisher brings, and it seemed good with only a single typo jumping out at me. Xoum also published Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott recently, which I’ve reviewed here.

The world building in this novel is extensive, but inserted into the story in a seamless way. By the end of the novel I had a good sense of the much larger world outside the rural setting of the novel, but I never felt like there was a lot of info dumping. This is difficult to pull off, but Nahrung makes it seem effortless.

Be warned. There is violence. And sex. And sexy violence. And violent sex. On the whole, Nahrung does not hold back from exploring what the reality would be for creatures that needed blood to survive and for those that provide it. It may not be for everyone, but the everyday life of a Blood and Dust vampire provides a visceral backdrop to the storyline.

The pace is thriller-like, with escalating conflict all the way through. I tore through the book in a couple of sittings, ignoring my family and duties around the house. Thank <insert deity of choice here> I’m on holiday from work.

While the story is probably more plot driven than character driven, there is still significant character development through the novel. Not all the character arcs felt entirely complete, I suspect there may be plans for more writing in the world that Nahrung has created.

Some of the characters are Australian Aborigines, and there are themes of connection to land and dispossession that come through strongly in the novel. These will resonate strongly with an Australian audience, especially the references to the stolen generation of Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their parents and sent to live in white homes. There was a small reference to the fact that Aboriginal vampires had evolved differently from European vampires – I hope this is something covered in more detail in future work, it was a fascinating idea. I’m not Aboriginal myself and so can’t really comment on whether the Aborigines in the story were portrayed realistically, but it seemed believable to me.

As an Australian, I love reading speculative fiction that has an Australian sensibility. In Blood and Dust I particularly like the rural/outback setting. It is not the first place you’d think to place vampires (they’d probably blend in better in Melbourne – they all seem to like wearing black and being trendily miserable there). But using an outback setting adds a freshness to the tropes, and creates a real juxtaposition between undead creatures of the night and the sun soaked desolation of an Australian landscape in drought.

Now while I loved the “Australianess” of the story I did wonder while reading whether that local flavour would put off non-Australian readers. For those readers, I draw your attention to the Australian-English translation guide at the back of the book. Also I’d be fascinated to hear from any non-Australian readers on how you found the book. Leave a comment below!

Nahrung’s take on the vampire is interesting, and certainly harkens back to the darker interpretations of the vampire ethos. I particularly liked the way a connection is drawn between the vampire and those that provide blood, providing a natural check to their population growth. And the vampire familiars are equally well drawn, the “red eyes” who provide the vampires with a steady source of blood and daylight protection and are rewarded with youth, strength and vitality.

The writing itself is evocative and visceral. There is sentiment in the story, but it is not over done. Nahrung is comfortable portraying the dark and the macabre and the confidence of his writing is a joy to behold. I’m perhaps betraying my literary preferences, but this story is firmly in the genre camp and a joy to read because of it.

My thirst for Queensland vampires momentarily slacked, I find the desire for more work in this world starting to build already. Come on Jason, get on with it.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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Salvage by Jason Nahrung – review

Salvage cover

I didn’t really know what to expect from Salvage by Jason Nahrung published by Twelfth Planet Press. I’ve read and enjoyed Nahrung’s short fiction in a variety of venues, so I knew enough about his preferred genre to assume this novella would be horror. I’d also picked up somewhere that there were vampires involved and it was set on Queensland island (a juxtaposition that sounded interesting), but beyond that nothing. I even avoided reviews from my usual sources so was able to come to the story pretty fresh.

After some of the raw imagery and violence of Nahrung’s other work, I was surprised at how understated and nuanced a story Salvage is. The main character, Melanie, is in a slowly disintegrating marriage. Melanie and her husband Richard have come to a holiday house reminiscent of happier days to work on their marriage. Things aren’t going so well when Melanie meets the mysterious Helena.

The description of a marriage on the rocks was extremely effective, making Melanie’s eventual attraction to Helena very believable. Indeed for a shorter form of fiction, the description of all the main characters was excellent, with Melanie’s development over the course of the story particularly well handled. While I wasn’t able to personally relate to some of the issues Melanie was dealing with, the exploration of the character left me feeling very sympathetic to her plight.

(There is a bit of raunch in the story – if that kind of thing isn’t your cup of tea there will be parts of Salvage that you won’t love).

The setting was richly described, really immersing the reader in isolated tropical splendour. I had wondered how the bright sunshine reputation of Queensland would mesh with dark loving creatures of the night, but the combination of humid heaviness and wild tropical storms was a surprisingly effective backdrop.

The take on the vampire was also unexpected and quite different from what I’ve seen from Nahrung previously. Indeed, I came away from Salvage with a deeper appreciation for Nahrung’s body of work in general. His range is quite excellent and he is rapidly cementing his place as one of my favourite authors.

Nahrung is releasing a novel soon called Blood and Dust, from Australian publisher Xoum. I’ll be virtually lining up for my electronic copy.

Highly recommended.

(Disclaimer: I met Nahrung at a recent conference, and a nicer person you’re not ever likely to meet. I don’t think that fact has influenced my enjoyment of his work, but then again you never know).

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.